Earlier this year it was announced that the Vancouver Art Gallery would be relocated from its current home to a brand-new structure at West Georgia and Cambie Streets. With this news came a second ruling that the 48 year-old Centennial Fountain out front of the gallery would not be preserved. The decision was met with a variety of perspectives, most arguing that the large fountain wasn’t conducive to the flow of pedestrians in the common area, and was no longer valuable as a gathering place – not to mention it had become prone to leaks. Others pointed out its historic character, and its value as a work of art itself, constructed of small, hand-chosen mosaic tiles by artist Alex von Svoboda. Whatever your thoughts on the fountain may be, there’s no denying that it’s a big piece (both literally and figuratively) of the Downtown core’s history.
Prior to its official unveiling in 1966, Premier W.A.C. Bennett wished to have the fountain’s construction kept hidden in order for it to be a surprise for the public. The fountain was intended to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the colonial union between BC and Vancouver Island in 1886. In 1966 the grounds were still home to the provincial courthouse – the VAG didn’t take it over until 1983. A memorial drinking fountain honouring King Edward VII was also sharing the ground out front on Georgia Street; it was moved to the side of the courthouse building in 1972.
Bennett requested the construction hoarding around the fountain site to be painted green and white, which conveniently enough were the colours of his BC Social Credit Party. However, this simply wouldn’t do for the more creative types at City Hall. Despite not being the renowned tourist attraction it is today, the location was nonetheless at the center of a growing cultural epicenter and therefore was a prime location for Mayor William Rathie’s alternative proposal to allow local artists to paint the hoarding instead.
The “Paint-In”, held on April 6th, 1966, featured over 100 local amateur and professional artists and displayed a wide range of styles and subjects. Artists had been encouraged to sign up and individual spots along the hoarding were assigned. Georgia and Howe Streets were closed as a large, curious crowd watched the painters get to work. The newly-formed Vancouver Life magazine even featured a photo of the artworks on the cover of their May issue.
The artists’ murals remained on view until the centennial fountain’s unveiling in December; what became of the artists’ work isn’t clear. Regardless, the creative stunt is not without its legacy. In 1968, the British Columbia Provincial Museum in Victoria staged a similar gathering and invited several local artists to paint on the hoarding around its construction zone. Check out the gallery below to view some of the unique works that helped add a little extra fleeting colour to our city.
Vancouver Life and BC Motorist magazine images courtesy of Jason Vanderhill. Archival photography of the murals is the work of Ernie H. Reksten and Leslie F. Sheraton.